It’s rare to find an individual that has founded a company, grown it to be extremely successful and then sold it at an incredible valuation. It’s even more rare to find an individual that has done it twice.
However, that’s just what the speaker at this month’s ACG National Capital Monthly Meeting has accomplished.
Dan Yates is the Founder and CEO of Opower, the leading customer engagement platform for utilities based right here in Arlington, VA. Dan’s achievements with Opower were rewarded when the company sold earlier this year to global software powerhouse, Oracle.
But his success didn’t begin with Opower. Prior to his work in the energy space, Dan had success in the education space – founding and eventually selling an educational software company, Edusoft.
On Friday September 30, 2016, Dan will bring his year’s of experience and accomplishment to the ACG National capital membership when he speaks at ACG’s September Monthly Meeting. To learn more about Dan’s background, the inspiration behind his two successful companies and what attendees can expect to learn from his appearance, we recently sat down with him to ask him a few questions.
Here is what he had to say:
Corporate Growth, Capital Style (CGCS): Prior to founding Opower, you started and subsequently sold a company called Edusoft that was in the educational software space. To what do you attribute the success and sale of Edusoft? What best practices and lessons did you learn from your time at the helm of Edusoft that prepared you for your role at Opower?
Dan Yates: Edusoft was a great little software company. We were bringing internet-based, multi-tenant enterprise software (today called SaaS) to K-12 education way before anyone else. And like most vertical software companies, we built some technology that was specifically optimized for our customers and industry.
In our case we created a “paper-to-web” technology that allowed students to still interact on paper, but using plain paper and off the shelf scanners, automatically scan and collate all the information online for teachers and administrators.
I grew up at Edusoft, learning my first lessons as a manager and leader. I learned a lot about getting things done and turning talk into action.
CGCS: Following the sale of Edusoft, you founded Opower. Although both companies are in the software space, they service very different markets – education and utilities/power, respectively. What led to your creation of Opower? How did you identify the need in the utility/power marketplace and conceptualize the idea for the company and its solutions?
Dan Yates: I came to the energy industry as an outsider. I really knew very little about it.
It was 2006-7 and I was looking at ways to have an impact on US carbon emissions, and I was searching in a lot of different places. I looked into a number of interesting projects on the supply side — innovative technologies for generating energy without carbon. Things like biofuels and new solar power technologies. But I soon realized two downsides to those projects:
- I would just spend my time fetching water and massaging the shoulders of the lead scientists for the first five years of these companies, as it was all about the tech and I didn’t know the science;
- Everyone and their mother was trying to do something in “Cleantech” and all the focus was on these supply-side approaches.
I was reading the UN’s scientific reports on getting to a carbon neutral future, and was struck that demand-side approaches — aka energy efficiency — had to be half of the solution. I hadn’t heard of anyone working on that problem, so I started looking there.
And then I had some good luck. I came across the research of a behavioral scientist, Robert Cialdini, who had shown that comparing people’s energy use to their neighbors led to major reductions in energy use.
I had also just read about a growing market in the US for efficiency programs, mostly focused on subsidizing efficient appliances, lightbulbs, etc, and put and two and two together. If I could prove that this information-based, behavioral science approach really saved energy, I could qualify for this efficiency market and get paid for it.
CGCS: Opower offers an extensive list of services and solutions to power and utility companies. Can you tell our readers about some of these solutions and why they’re so necessary for today’s power and utility companies?
Dan Yates: I just described our first product — an information-based energy efficiency program that has now reached tens of millions of energy customers and is saving about as much energy each year as that produced by the Hoover Dam.
That product, the Home Energy Report, is still Opower’s largest and best selling product.
Since then, we have branched out into the broader space of digital customer service.
Utilities are still catching up to other industries with using internet and mobile technology to serve their customers, in lieu of call centers and paper mailers. We have been building the world’s leading suite of customer self service technologies to help utilities better serve their customers online, from bill pay to usage analytics to outage alerts to start/stop service.
CGCS: In 2013, Opower was named to the inaugural CNBC Disruptor 50 List and selected as a Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer. Then, in May of 2016, the company was acquired by Oracle, one of the world’s largest and most recognized brands. To what do you attribute the success and sale of the company?
Dan Yates: Ultimately our success was driven by our ability to deliver a set of products for our customers that they needed, and that worked well for them. And we worked tirelessly to secure and support our biggest clients and cement long term relationships with them.
CGCS: What made this deal the right fit for both Oracle and Opower? Are there any lessons learned from this transaction that you feel could benefit our readers?
Dan Yates: One of my favorite board members said to me in 2013, after I explained our strategy to evolve into utility customer service, “You’re either going to turn into Oracle or get bought by them.” Well, the second one happened!
We knew for a long time – and cultivated a relationship with Oracle over that time – that our paths were merging with theirs. Oracle has the world’s leading customer information system for utilities. As we continued to move in that direction the synergies became stronger and stronger.
In terms of lessons learned from the transaction — there is always a point in a deal when it feels like it truly, actually, is going to fall apart. In that moment, don’t sit idly by; work your hardest.
CGCS: We’ve covered a lot in this Q&A, but I’m sure there is still many more anecdotes, lessons learned and best practices to share with the ACG membership at the upcoming monthly meeting. What can ACG members and others in attendance expect from your upcoming presentation?
Dan Yates: There will be laughs, there will be tears. It will be better than CATS. (Editor’s note – ANYTHING is better than CATS!)